NHL Prospects

AHL Prospect Analysis (Atlantic Division)

Jon Litterine   |  @JonLitterine  |  2/1/2021  |  [hupso]

NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — The American Hockey League — the NHL’s premier development circuit — is beginning its season on Feb. 5 after an 11-month layoff due to the global pandemic. Twenty eight of the league’s 31 teams will participate, with three franchises — Springfield, Charlotte, and Milwaukee — opting to sit the season out due to health concerns.

Last season, the AHL was forced to shutdown on March 11 and was therefore no longer an option for NHL team’s to stash their notable neophytes. The eventual result was a mass exodus of players to Europe, which resumed play last August.  Now that the AHL  season is a go, training camps have begun in preparation for next week’s opener, meaning dozens of notable NHL prospects can converge on their team’s respective camp locations to allow the parent club visibility and oversight on their development.

Below is a season review and update on most of those aforementioned prospects, who have either not played an official hockey game at any level for 11 months, played in Europe, or are currently on an NHL roster. Each of the league’s four divisions from last season’s format will be covered.

Realignment for 2020-21

Atlantic North Canadian Central Pacific
Bridgeport (NYI) Binghamton (NJD) Belleville (OTT) Chicago (CAR/NAS) Bakersfield (EDM)
Hartford (NYR) Lehigh Valley (PHI) Laval (MTL) Cleveland (CBJ) Colorado (COL)
Providence (BOS) WB/Scranton (PIT) Manitoba (WIN) Grand Rapids (DET) Henderson (VGK)
Utica (VAN/STL) Stockton (CGY) Iowa (MIN) Ontario (LAK)
Rochester (BUF) Toronto (TOR) Rockford (CHI) Tucson (ARI)
Syracuse (TB/FLA) Texas (DAL) San Jose (SJS)
Hershey (WAS) San Diego (ANA)

Bridgeport (NYI)

2020-21 Camp Roster

Kieffer Bellows (LW, 6’1, 195 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd. {16th overall} 2016): Bellows led the team with 22 goals in 52 games. He started very slowly, with just one goal in his first 19 games, before a streak in which he tallied at least once in 10 of the next 13 games. Bellows is a pure sniper who figures to need a creative center to get him the puck for him to maximize his potential. On paper, he looks like a great fit alongside Mathew Barzal. Bellows, however, isn’t the type of player to create his own offense. He had a strong training camp and made the Islanders’ 2020-21 team, albeit on the extended “taxi” squad.

Simon Holmstrom (RW, 6’1, 183 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {23rd overall} 2019): Holmstrom was a surprise selection at No. 23 overall in 2019 and the Islanders immediately stuck him in Bridgeport. The numbers (eight goals, 15 points in 46 games) were underwhelming but Holmstrom was one of the youngest players in the league. He had also played very little hockey in his draft year due to injury. Holmstrom, who played for Sweden at the 2021 under-20 world junior hockey championship, is a long-term upside play.

Otto Koivula (LW/C, 6’4, 225 pounds, acquired: 4th Rd {120th overall} 2016): Koivula has spent much of his career on left wing, but the Islanders recently decided to give him a look at center. It appears to be an odd fit, given the biggest hole in Koivula’s game is a distinct lack of foot speed. He’s a massive kid but projects as more of an offensive threat than role player. He played 12 NHL games in 2019-20 and failed to record a point.

Jakub Skarek (G, 6’4, 203 pounds, acquired: 3rd Rd {72nd overall} 2018): Skarek split his first North American season between Bridgeport and Worcester of the ECHL. His numbers with the Sound Tigers (3.27 GAA, .888 save percentage in 16 games) were ugly but he’s better than those statistics would suggest. Skarek remains a legitimate prospect despite the rough season and earned a spot on the taxi squad.

Oliver Wahlstrom (RW, 6’2, 209 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {11th overall} 2018): Wahlstrom’s first AHL season was up and down. He managed 10 goals in 45 games, a reasonable number for a kid who played the entire season at age 19. Wahlstrom’s ceiling is that of a perennial 30-goal scorer at the NHL level but he needs to work on his consistency. Like Bellows, Wahlstrom made the team’s taxi squad out of training camp and has already appeared in NHL action.

Bode Wilde (D, 6’4, 200 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {41st overall} 2018): Wilde’s (pictured) season got off to a late start due to a high-ankle sprain. He returned in mid-November and played 20 games for Bridgeport (zero goals, two assists) before being reassigned to OHL Saginaw. Wilde is an offensive defenseman, but he’s not Quinn Hughes or Cale Makar and his decision making with the puck has always been iffy. He has NHL-caliber traits, but I would place the odds of him becoming a productive pro at far less than 50/50 right now.

Prospect to Watch

LW A.J. Greer

A former second-round pick of Colorado in the 2015 NHL draft, Greer is a punishing power forward with size who produced consecutive productive AHL seasons with the Colorado Eagles before he was traded to the Islanders for Kyle Burroughs on Oct. 11. Although the Islanders have depth for days on the flanks at both the NHL and AHL levels, Greer is getting a fresh start with an organization that desires physical play from its forwards. With both Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom both up with the Islanders, it’s reasonable to believe that Greer will be a key cog in Bridgeport’s attack.

Charlotte (CAR)*

2020-21 Camp Roster

*Charlotte opted out of the 2020-21 season and is no longer affiliated with Carolina. Their prospects now play in Chicago.

Jake Bean (D, 6’0, 175 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {13th overall} 2016): Bean won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s top defenseman this past season. He led all AHL defenders in scoring (48 points in 59 games). Bean would almost certainly already have substantial NHL time under his belt if he was in any organization other than Carolina. There was no room for him with the Hurricanes to begin the season and there is even less now after Carolina acquired Brady Skjei from the Rangers at the trade deadline. Bean is clearly ready for a full-time NHL role and he’s cheap ($850K), so he would have significant trade value if Carolina decides to go that route. He was named to Carolina’s taxi squad after training camp.

Morgan Geekie (C, 6’2, 190 pounds, acquired: 3rd Rd {67th overall} 2017): Geekie has spent the majority of the past two seasons with Charlotte, posting 41 goals and 88 points in 128 games. Yet by the time the NHL playoffs rolled around this summer, Geekie was a full-time player for Carolina. Not only did Geekie play, but he stood out. He’s still just 22 years of age but Geekie appears ready to fill a bottom-six role for the Hurricanes as soon as next season. He too made the taxi squad out of camp but quickly went into the Canes’ lineup as a bottom-six center and has appeared in five of their six games.

Joey Keane (D, 6’0, 187 pounds, acquired: Trade with NYR): In a rare prospect-for-prospect trade, Keane (pictured) was acquired from the Rangers straight up for Julien Gauthier in February. After being passed over entirely in the 2017 draft, Keane was the No. 88 overall selection by New York in 2018. He posted 37 points in 58 games and was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team this past season. Keane moves exceptionally well and is good offensively. He’s also a right-handed shot. He can probably help Carolina in 2020-21 if injuries strike.

Roland McKeown (D, 6’1, 195 pounds, acquired: Trade with LA): McKeown was a big prospect early on in his OHL days, but he’s stalled out as a pro. He’s spent the past four seasons with Charlotte, not counting 10 games with the Hurricanes in 2017-18. He makes for decent AHL depth, but that’s about it at this point.

Stelio Mattheos (C, 6’1, 195 pounds, acquired: 3rd Rd {73rd overall} 2017): Mattheos has battled numerous health issues, mostly notably, being diagnosed with testicular cancer last year. He was limited to 16 regular season games with Charlotte, posting six points. He’s still just 21 years of age and I have long thought he had the potential to be a solid, bottom-six forward at the NHL level if he can remain healthy moving forward.

Alex Nedeljkovic (G, 5’11, 190 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {37th overall} 2014): Nedeljkovic has been a solid AHL goaltender for years but has faltered in the rare instances in which he received NHL playing time. He’s technically sound, but he’s small. You can count the number of NHL goaltenders below 6-foot these days on one hand, but Nedeljkovic remains with the organization and will now serve as the Canes’ backup until starter Petr Mrazek is healthy.

Prospect to Watch

C/W Ryan Suzuki

An impressive performance as a depth player at the last under-20 world junior hockey championship was yet another example of Suzuki’s promise after the Canes drafted him 28th overall in the 2019 draft. Quick, skilled, and the owner of a nasty shot, Suzuki likely takes a bit longer to make an impact at the NHL than his brother Nick, who currently stars for Montreal. Although Ryan will be an AHL rookie competing within one of the league’s deepest talent pools for forwards, there’s no reason to think he won’t see a fair amount of time in the top six and on the power play.

Hartford (NYR)

2020-21 Camp Roster

Tim Gettinger (LW, 6’6, 218 pounds, acquired: 5th Rd {141st overall} 2016): Gettinger is a massive man, but he’s more of a scorer than a grinder and his game appears ill-suited to fill a bottom-six role at the NHL level. He doesn’t skate all that well and has the look of an up-and-down guy.

Libor Hajek (D, 6’2, 203 pounds, acquired: Trade with TB): Hajek was the “main” piece of the trade that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Lightning. Hajek is built like a tank but his decision-making with the puck has been questionable at times and he was never projected to generate much offense as a pro. I’m hesitant to give up on him but he’s clearly been passed by the likes of Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller on the LHD depth chart. Plus, prospects like Zac Jones and Matthew Robertson are on the way. Although Hajek would appear to be a possible candidate for Seattle in the upcoming expansion draft, the Rangers’ current struggles on defense and pending trade of Tony DeAngelo could open the door for Hajek to give his stock a boost.

Adam Huska (G, 6’4, 218 pounds, acquired: 7th Rd {184th overall} 2015): Huska is a legitimate prospect and that alone is a great return for any seventh-rounder. He just finished his first pro season with Hartford, posting a 3.03 GAA and .894 save percentage in 28 games. Huska’s greatest attribute is his size. Truth be told, there’s an outside chance he could develop into an NHL backup but Huska figures to split AHL time with the recently-signed Tyler Wall. One thing to consider is New York’s current goalie struggles, which could hasten an NHL promotion.

Vitali Kravtsov (RW, 6’3, 189 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {9th overall} 2018): Kravtsov didn’t have a very good first AHL season (15 points in 39 games) but he played considerably better after a brief return to the KHL. With fellow winger Kaapo Kakko having graduated, Kravtsov is by far the most talented prospect in the NYR system. Players with Kravtsov’s offensive skill set are extremely hard to find and the Rangers need to be patient with him, but the good news is that he’s having another quality season in Russia. The only hurdle for the Rangers regarding Kravtsov is that he is yet again playing in the KHL and won’t be available until much later in the season.

Darren Raddysh (D, 6’1, 200 pounds, acquired: Trade with CHI): Raddysh has completely remade his game since his time as a point-producing rearguard who ate minutes with the OHL’s Erie Otters alongside notable forwards Connor McDavid, Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat. Raddysh is more of a shutdown, penalty-killing type at this stage of his development, and although he turns 25 in February, he’s been serviceable for the organization as a minor league . Raddysh may never become an NHL regular but given the chance, he may fare well as a sixth or seventh defenseman. He is a character player who deserved his qualifying offer from the Rangers.

Yegor Rykov (D, 6’2, 210 pounds, acquired: Trade with NJ): The Rangers worked hard to get Rykov to leave the KHL and it all fell apart from the get-go — he suffered an ankle injury in the Traverse City prospects tournament and inconsistency made him a healthy scratch later in the season. His contract contains a European out clause, and he’s once again playing in Russia with CSKA (nine assists in 43 games). Rykov turns 24 in April and it’s doubtful we ever see him in North America again.

Igor Shesterkin (G, 6’2, 182 pounds, acquired: 4th Rd {118th overall} 2014): Although he’s never going to play another game in the AHL unless it’s on a rehab assignment, Shestyorkin’s AHL performance last year played a significant role in his becoming the heir apparent in net to future Hockey Hall-of-Famer Henrik Lundqvist. He played 25 games with the Wolf Pack last season (his first in North America), posting a stellar 1.90 GAA and .934 save percentage. The Rangers had no room for him to play but they essentially mothballed Lundqvist last January and gave Shesterkin the No. 1 job. He was brilliant (2.52 GAA, .932 save percentage in 12 NHL games) and should be New York’s primary starter for years to come. Shesterkin is uber-athletic and projects as a perennial Vezina Trophy candidate.

Prospect to Watch

RHD Braden Schneider

A heat-seeking missile who patrols the back end with quickness and lethality, Schneider was drafted 19th overall by the Rangers in 2020, and they had to trade up to grab him. He had several impressive showings at the 2021 world juniors, and even his one-game suspension for a massive open-ice hit in the preliminary round pays tribute to Schneider’s coveted intimidation factor. He turned 19 in September and already completed three full WHL seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Hershey (WAS)

2020-21 Camp Roster

Alexander Alexeyev (D, 6’4, 196 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {31st overall} 2018): Although their farm system is slowly recovering from years of trades and misfires at the draftAlexeyev is one of the legitimate blue-chip prospects in the Washington system. The Caps have been one of the better NHL teams for years and their depth has taken a hit as a result. Alexeyev posted impressive totals as a rookie AHL defenseman (21 points in 58 games) and logged heavy minutes for Hershey. He’s clearly a potential NHL regular, although for now he’s probably going to stay in a depth role as opposed to a top-four option. Alexeyev is having a fine season with the KHL’s Ufa Salavat Yulayev but he could return in time to play games for Washington in 2020-21.

Axel Jonsson-Fjallby (RW, 6’2, 192 pounds, acquired: 5th Rd {147th overall} 2016): “AJF” is an NHL prospect primarily because of how well he skates but I’m skeptical that alone will make him a productive player at higher levels. His creativity with the puck limits his potential as point producer and would likely have to fill a Carl Hagelin-type role if he is to succeed. Johnsson-Fjalby posted respectable totals in his first full AHL season — 12 goals and 23 points in 61 games — and he’s currently on loan to Vasterviks in Sweden’s second-tier Allsvenskan. He has a bit of a cult following within the fan base but Washington has been beefing up the forward ranks of its prospect pool in each of the last two drafts.

Vitek Vanecek (G, 6’1, 187 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {39th overall} 2014): Vanecek has been in the Washington system for five seasons but finally caught a break when free-agent signee Henrik Lundqvist had to undergo open-heart surgery. Therefore, Vanacek’s strong AHL resume (40-26-4 the last two seasons for Hershey) made him an easy choice to backup starter Ilya Samsonov, but Vanacek is now the Caps’ No. 1 with a stellar 5-0-2 mark through Sunday. Both he and the Capitals’ staff have been patient since he was drafted nearly seven years ago and the results are benefitting the organization.

Prospect to Watch

RW Brett Leason

Drafted 56th overall as a double overager by Washington in 2019, the 1999-born Leason had an inconsistent rookie AHL season production-wise (14 points in 50 games) but was used in critical situations and did a good job on the penalty kill. The Capitals are impressed with his makeup and maturity, and it would be smart to bet on a studious hard worker like Leason taking a significant step forward in his development. At 6-foot-4 and over 200 pounds, Leason has shown to be both agile and elusive despite owning such a large frame.

Lehigh Valley (PHI)

2020-21 Camp Roster

Nicolas Aube-Kubel (RW, 5’11, 204 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {48th overall} 2014): Aube-Kubel appears to have established himself as an NHL regular after four years in the Philadelphia system. He brings plenty of grit and an underrated amount of skill which should help him remain a productive bottom-six option for the Flyers for years to come. Thus far, he’s posted a goal and two assists in 10 games for Philadelphia after he registered eight points in 26 games for Lehigh Valley last season.

Morgan Frost (C, 6’0, 180 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {27th overall} 2017): Frost turned pro in 2019-20, playing in 20 games for Philadelphia (seven points) and 41 games for Lehigh Valley (29 points) after being one of the top junior scorers in Canada. It was an extremely productive year for a kid who played the entire 2019-20 hockey season as a 20-year-old. Frost is one of the most gifted offensive prospects in the entire league. With Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes already on board, the Flyers have the luxury of breaking Frost in as a depth-line center role while giving him considerable power-play time. He made the club out of camp and appeared in two games (zero points) but is out indefinitely with a dislocated shoulder

Isaac Ratcliffe (LW, 6’5, 203 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {35th overall} 2017): This linebacker on skates potted 50 goals in 65 games in his final OHL season but scored just six times in 53 contests as an AHL rookie. Although struggles are common in the transition period from major junior to an adult-age league, Ratcliffe’s inability to score with consistency certainly put his junior numbers in perspective. Ratcliffe’s size alone make him a highly intriguing prospect but his stock is down considerably from this point a year ago. He made the Flyers’ taxi squad out of camp but missed a month with a fractured rib. The good news is that Ratcliffe already is skating again and should be considered a top-liner for Lehigh Valley once he’s healthy.

German Rubtsov (C, 6’0, 190 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {22nd overall} 2016): Making his AHL debut in 2018-19, Rubtsov posted four goals and 10 points in his first 14 games with Lehigh Valley before he was injured and missed the rest of the year. He spent the entirety of the 2019-20 campaign in the AHL as well, posting just two goals and 13 points in 43 games. I have a difficult time seeing him as anything more than a fourth-liner or extra guy at this point. He was loaned to Sochi in the KHL (11 points in 43 games) where he’s one of the younger players on a terrible squad, so like many other Russian prospects may stay there until his team is eliminated from the playoffs.

Matthew Strome (LW, 6’4, 210 pounds, acquired: 4th Rd {106th overall} 2016): Whenever I see Strome, he reminds me of former Arizona (then Phoenix) first-rounder Henrik Samuelsson. They’re both players with excellent size and at least an average offensive skill set, but both are well below-average skaters, and that figures to keep Strome from becoming an NHL player. He split this past year – his first as a pro – between the AHL and ECHL and I expect that to continue moving forward. Strome did not make the Flyers out of camp but he remains with the organization and is awaiting his AHL season to start.

Mikhail Vorobyov (C, 6’2, 206 pounds, acquired: 4th Rd {104th overall} 2015): Vorobyov has always played well for Lehigh Valley the past few years but disappointed in the rare instances in which he was given time with the Flyers. He has just two goals and five points in 35 career NHL games, and elected to head back to the KHL this summer, where he was playing with UFA before blowing out his ACL in late December.

Prospect to Watch

LHD Egor Zamula

There are a bunch of Flyers’ prospects to lock onto for this upcoming AHL season, but Zamula is near the top of a competitive list of NHL-ready neophytes. A big bomber with size who starred for the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, Zamula was an undrafted free-agent signee who can move well, distribute the puck cleanly, and lock things down in his own end.

Providence (BOS)

2020-21 Camp Roster

Trent Frederic (C, 6’2, 214 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {29th overall} 2016): Frederic was a big-time scorer in his two seasons at the University of Wisconsin but his expected NHL role appears to be as a bottom-six winger. He made the Bruins out of training camp and is playing over 12 minutes a game but for his career has only one assist in 25 matches. With a contending Providence squad a season ago, Frederic was second with 24 assists and had a prominent role during critical late-close situations. He has plenty of size and decent hands, so he could eventually develop into a useful depth piece for Boston. Frederic is still just 22 years old.

Jakub Lauko (LW, 6’0, 190 pounds, acquired: 3rd Rd {77th overall} 2018): Lauko was effective in 22 games for Providence (nine points in 22 games) and is expected to be a key player with this year’s squad. He left for the World Juniors in December of 2019 and was injured during the Czech Republic’s first game before he made it back for the AHL at the tail end of the season, playing a handful of games before the stoppage. Lauko is an underrated prospect, as he’s shown occasional flashes of natural offensive abilities and gets chances because of his speed. He spent the first half of the 2020-21 campaign with Karlovy Vary in the Czech Extraliga (five goals, five assists in 25 games) and has already been released to take part in the Baby B’s camp.

Jeremy Lauzon (D, 6’1, 215 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {52nd overall} 2015): Lauzon has been on the Providence-to-Boston shuttle each of the past two seasons and finally earned a full-time job in Beantown for the 2020-21 campaign, where he’s averaging nearly 20 minutes a night of a contending Bruins squad. Granted, the loss of free agents Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara created enough of a gap for Lauzon to use his nearly three seasons of AHL experience to his advantage, but he already had 35 NHL games under his belt to help make the transition smoother. He was a critical piece to Providence’s dominance last season so it goes without saying that Lauzon more than earned his AHL degree.

Zach Senyshyn (RW, 6’1, 205 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {15th overall} 2015): I was all over Senyshyn in his OHL junior days with Sault Ste Marie, thinking he would be, at a minimum, an effective middle-six forward. It hasn’t happened. Senyshyn can really skate but I overrated his hockey sense. He looks good flying around the ice but not a lot gets done, which probably explains why a 15th overall pick from nearly six years ago has only six NHL games to his credit. He’ll continue to get chances because of his draft pedigree but he’s just about out of time — the Bruins placed him on waivers in mid-January and don’t have any room for him with the parent club. The only thing left for Senyshyn at this point is to do something he hasn’t done in three full seasons with Providence — dominate his peers and be a team focal point.

Oskar Steen (C, 5’9, 185 pounds, acquired: 6th Rd {165th overall} 2016): Steen exploded in his final SHL season, posting 37 points in 46 games for Farjestad. He found his first year with Providence a bit more difficult (seven goals, 23 points in 60 games) but I remain optimistic. I wouldn’t call Steen a game-breaking offensive talent but he’s a crafty player with at above-average puck skills. This season, Steen was loaned back to Sweden where he was one of the top goal scorers in the adult-age Allsvenskan (12 goals in 16 games) and actually led the circuit with an impressive 30.8 shooting percentage. He crossed the pond in January for training camp but has been dealing with an undisclosed injury.

Jack Studnicka (C, 6’1, 176 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {53rd overall} 2017): I look at Studnicka and I think of Tampa Bay forward Anthony Cirelli. Cirelli might be a bit better defensively but Studnicka dominated offensively in his first year as an AHL pro. He posted 23 goals and a team-best 49 points in 60 games while being named to the AHL All-Rookie Team. He appeared in two games for the Bruins a season ago and this year made the club out of camp (one goal in six games). He’s also dealing with an undisclosed injury but the Bruins had been playing him close to 14 minutes a game as a top-nine winger, which means the chances of a return to Providence are slim to none.

Urho Vaakanainen (D, 6’1, 190 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {18th overall} 2017): Vaakanainen is on a longer curve than most expected. I thought he would have been an NHL regular by now, although Vaakanainen has played just seven NHL games to date. He was loaned to SaiPa in the Finnish SM-Liiga, where he appeared in only two games in late November before heading back to North America to join the Bruins for training camp. Although Vaakanainen did not make the parent club and is currently on the taxi squad, he was one of the better Bruins defensemen in camp and should be one of the first call-ups in the event of an injury. He’s already had two AHL seasons so you have to think the graduation of others coupled with his experience will make him an easy No. 1 defender for the Baby B’s if the Bruins decide to send him down.

Dan Vladar (G, 6’5, 195 pounds, acquired: 3rd Rd {75th overall} 2015): Vladar’s breakout 2019-20 season saw him lead the AHL in both GAA (1.79) and save percentage (.936). He made his NHL debut in the playoffs against Tampa Bay after Jaroslav Halak was pulled in Game 3. Keep in mind that Tuukka Rask’s future is seemingly up in the air and Halak isn’t getting any younger. There’s little chance the Bruins would give Vladar a starting gig in 2020-21 but I could see a scenario in which his $728K cap hit comes in handy as a backup. He made the taxi squad out of camp but may be sent down to Providence on occasion to avoid rust.

Jakub Zboril (D, 6’0, 195 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {13th overall} 2015): It may have taken him some time, but Zboril is now the closest he’s ever been to an NHL top-four mainstay. He was nothing short of consistent with the P-Bruins, amassing nearly 200 games and playing over 20 minutes a match. He fought his way onto Boston’s 2020-21 roster and through his first eight games has averaged almost 19 minutes a contest. Barring something catastrophic, it’s safe to say Zboril’s AHL days are finally over.

Prospect to Watch

C Curtis Hall

What a shocker — the Bruins have yet another prospect who is physical two-way forward with size and New England ties. Hall, who led Yale in scoring as a sophomore, can fill a variety of roles and his combination of speed and size makes him an effective player off the puck and in his own end. Providence will ice one of the AHL’s younger groups of forwards so Hall should see enough ice time to acclimate to the league’s increased levels of speed and physicality.

Springfield (FLA)*

2020-21 Camp Roster

*Springfield opted out of the 2020-21 season and Florida’s prospects will play in Syracuse.

Henrik Borgstrom (C, 6’3, 199 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {23rd overall} 2016): Borgstrom has been on the radar as a top prospect for several years, but it’s gotten to the point where he may need a trade to salvage whatever value he has left. Borgstrom has been a pro in North America since leaving the University of Denver as a star sophomore at the end of the 2017-18 season. Since then, Borgstrom spent 73 games with Springfield and 58 with Florida. The belief is that he still has the potential to be a top-six forward rather than the depth player for the Panthers, who are off to a great start to their 2020-21 season while Borgstrom plays well with HIFK in his native Finland. Considering Springfield is one of the three teams to opt out and Borgstrom remains an unsigned RFA, the chances of him seeing any time in the AHL this season are slim.

Aleksi Heponiemi (RW, 5’10, 148 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {40th overall} 2017): I was as high on Heponiemi as anyone entering his first professional season, but his performance last year in the AHL was disappointing. Slight of frame and more of a finesse type than anything else, Heponiemi managed just three goals and 14 points in 49 games. Obviously, the main concern here is the lack of size, although there was the sense that he was shifty and creative enough to succeed in the NHL as a smaller player listed at nearly 150 pounds. Heponiemi was loaned this season to MODO in the Swedish Hockey League, where he was one of the team’s top scorers with 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 14 games. He was later invited to Florida’s training camp and made the taxi squad before he worked his way to NHL action, and Heponiemi scored his first career goal against the Red Wings on Jan. 30.

Eetu Luostarinen (C, 6’3, 179 pounds, acquired: Trade with CAR): Luostarinen joined the Panthers in the deal that sent Vincent Trocheck to Carolina. He’s a big-bodied kid with a decent set of hands who posted a solid rookie AHL season with Charlotte (25 points in 44 games) and even appeared in eight NHL games for the contending Hurricanes. With Florida, Luostarinen has already established himself as a regular top-nine center and scored two goals and an assist in his first six games of 2020-21.

Chase Priskie (D, 6’0, 192 pounds, acquired: Trade with CAR): Originally a sixth-round pick of Washington in 2016, Priskie declined to sign with the Caps, played four years collegiately at Quinnipiac, then joined Carolina as a free agent. He too was dealt to Florida from Carolina in the Trocheck deal, and his combined 35 points between Charlotte and Springfield ranked him 11th among AHL defensemen. A finalist for the Hobey Baker Award in his final collegiate season, Priskie is a mobile, offensive defenseman, who at the very least, provides high-end AHL depth. Judging by Syracuse’s initial training camp roster, the job of power-play quarterback should be Priskie’s to lose.

Owen Tippett (RW, 6’2, 205 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {10th overall} 2017): Tippett gets paid to score goals and he did a nice job of that in his first full AHL campaign scoring, tallying 19 times in 46 games, which ranked sixth among AHL newcomers. There are consistency issues to work with here but Tippett’s ceiling is very high and his play in the AHL helped make him a legitimate candidate to not only make the Panthers out of camp, but potentially replace one of Mike Hoffman or Evgeny Dadonov; both who left via free agency. Tippett has barely played with the Cats, however, as his ice time ranks among the lowest on Florida’s roster. In the end, the decision will be to either keep him in Florida as a Black Ace or send him to Syracuse to serve as a top liner.

Prospect to Watch

LW Grigory Denisenko

One of the top goal-scoring wingers from the 2018 draft class, Denisenko signed his pro contract last spring and opted not to play in Russia for the 2020-21 season. He was one of the KHL’s better teenagers in his two previous seasons with Lokomotiv and isn’t far off from becoming an NHL regular. There’s always the chance that Denisenko may struggle initially with the transition to North American hockey (see Vitaly Kravtsov), but his electrifying skill and multitude of ways to score can keep any opponent on notice whenever he’s on the ice.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (PIT)

2020-21 Camp Roster

Jordy Bellerive (C, 5’11, 194 pounds, acquired: signed as free agent): Bellerive was a big-time scorer with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes but is simply one of the better AHL prospects in arguably the league’s thinnest farm systems. His first full season as a pro delivered moments of promise but his production (12 goals and 22 points in 53 games) was more than acceptable on a team that struggled to score. Bellerive likely gets the long-term development treatment that most Pens’ forward prospects get before they get to the Steel City, but once must consider that he was added to the organization under Jim Rutherford, who left his post last week.

Pierre-Olivier Joseph (D, 6’2, 161 pounds, acquired: Trade with ARI): One of the few remaining blue-chip prospects in Pittsburgh’s shallow pool made quite the impression in training camp to not only make the Penguins but also play a regular shift. Joseph, who was Arizona’s first-round pick in 2017 and later traded to the Pens in the Phil Kessel deal , already has four assists in six games for the Pens and posted back-to-back games with at least 25 minutes of ice time.

Prospect to Watch

C Jonathan Gruden

Acquired from Ottawa in the Matt Murray trade, Gruden was a creative top-six center with the U.S. National Team Development Program who Ottawa selected in the fourth round of the 2018 draft. He spent a season in college with Miami University before moving to the OHL for the 2019-20 season and finished with 30 goals and 66 points in 59 games for a deep London Knights roster. He used to be considered as a pass-first type but playing in the run-and-gun OHL showcased Gruden’s shot and ability to finish around the net.

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